The modern crescendo of comics translated into mass media forms has been building for several years. Beyond the recent superhero domination of the local cineplex and network weblets like The CW, independent works such as Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead both debuted in that “long ago” year of 2010; eight years earlier, the Max Allan Collins/Richard Piers Rayner graphic novel Road to Perdition reached the big screen with an all-star case headed by Tom Hanks — and there are fistfuls of other examples that indicate how the wave that became the current tsunami has been building for much of the 21st Century.
Of course, about a hundred years earlier, comic strips were serving as the same inspiration for the lively arts that comic books and graphic novels fulfill today. As proof, one need look only to one of our favorite creators, George McManus.
In 1913 theater productions were the most common form of mass entertainment, since the film industry was in its nascent stages — Charlie Chaplin’s first Mack Sennett Keystone comedy was being filmed that year, for a February 2014 release. At the same time, a touring theatrical company was presenting its lavish adaptation of McManus’s popular New York World comic series, The Newlyweds. Below you’ll find an article touting the production, from the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, and a 1914 ad when the show came to Muncie, Indiana:
McManus debuted his most enduring creation, Bringing Up Father (BUF), in 1913, and it didn’t take long for vaudeville performer and theatrical impresario Gus Hill to turn BUF into one of his “cartoon theatricals.” (He produced similar performances featuring other early comics characters, The Yellow Kid and Mutt and Jeff among them.) His initial Bringing Up Father would spawn sequels that brought audiences in town after town back to their local performing arts center to see the hi-jinks of Maggie and Jiggs jump off the newspaper page. Here’s an ad for BUF when it toured Ft. Worth in 1916. The 1918 article from the Ottawa Citizen was printed on two separate pages, and is one of several newspaper accounts telling readers that the on-stage Jiggs and Maggie had the last name “Mahoney” (McManus steered clear of offering a surname to his principles in the comic strip version).
“Movie houses” sprouted across the land throughout the 1920s, and the advent of sound in motion pictures drove the popularity of films on a steep upward curve worldwide. BUF‘s comic strip popularity remained constant throughout the period, and its twin themes of a clash of classes and domestic love overlaid with strife spoke to audiences while providing any number of ways to deliver sure-fire laughs. As a result, MGM translated Bringing Up Father to the silver screen in 1928 …
… And Hollywood again turned its attention to the Jiggs household in 1946, when Monogram Pictures released its first of several Bringing Up Father pictures, starring Joe Yule (father of screen legend Mickey Rooney) as the ever-harried Jiggs and Renie Riano as a formidable Maggie, as this publicity photo proves:
Here’s a lobby card from 1947’s Jiggs and Maggie in Society (look, out, Jiggsy!):
Monogram released a BUF picture each year between 1946-50; the series ended only with the death, at age fifty-seven, of Joe Yule, whose final role was as the lead in Jiggs and Maggie Out West. Who knows how long Monogram would have continued the series had Yule not passed away?
Now it’s easy to say there’s no real comparison between the local response to a 1910s road-show theatrical production and the millions around the globe who pay to see today’s effects-laden comics-based blockbusters — certainly, there is truth to that position. But while inhabitants of the 21st Century celebrate the “arrival” of comics as jet-fuel for the most popular of the modern-day performing arts, Bringing Up Father is just one example that proves comic strips were the first aspect of the sequential art medium to stake out that particular claim.